Even Toni Morrison: On Writing and Rejection

I’d like to begin by sharing with you the belief that everyone gets rejected, all of the time.

Well, not everyone, but who hasn’t, at one time or another, in one realm or another, felt spurned? An adored boyfriend unexpectedly dumps your tuchus, an agent or editor rejects your work, a prospective employer declines to embrace your candidacy. It happens and you do what you can to move on.

When I get rejected, which happens with great and generous frequency, I try my best to channel my inner Toni Morrison, to the extent that I have an inner Toni Morrison.

I used to read biographies and interviews of Toni Morrison and feel terribly about what it all meant. You really can’t compare yourself to Toni Morrison in the affirmative, and no one should try. I remember reading somewhere that Morrison, a powerhouse editor and publisher long before she shared her own writing with the world-–would write when her children were sleeping (before or after a long day at work, I can’t recall the particulars). But Toni, I thought to myself, I’m exhausted. Before my child was awake, I was sleeping, and after my child is asleep, I have all the energy of a wet noodle, and am lucky if I can do anything more involved than stare blankly at the wall. So you can’t compare yourself to Toni Morrison, she’s inimitable, she’s the best writer in the English language. Don’t argue with me, you know I’m right. And you’re awesome, but you’re you, and that’s another thing entirely.

Still, in weak moments, I remind myself even Toni Morrison has been rejected. Seldom, I’m sure, and with great retrospective embarrassment on the part of the rejector, no doubt, but I know for a fact that she’s been passed over.

So if you’re having a bad day, week, year, or whatever, and especially if you’ve endured some sort of crushing or foolish rejection, just remember that in 1987, the National Book Award went to Larry Heinemann for Paco’s Story, rather than Toni Morrison for Beloved. I think we can all agree that Toni Morrison is among the greatest writers, living or dead, and arguably the greatest American writer of this or any other century–future, past, present. No disrespect to Mr. Heinemann, but I have no idea who he is. Of course, in 1993, six years after this absurdly mystifying and egregious failure on the part of the National Book Foundation, Morrison won the Nobel. So whatever went wrong for you lately, don’t worry about it. You’re no Toni Morrison and I’m no Toni Morrison. Never mind. Your 1993 is coming.

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